I think we can all agree that pretty much everything sucks right now, and it’s very rare to see even a small bit of good news. That’s why I got so excited to see a little bit of that good news come across my desk this morning. In the wake of the coronavirus-induced shutdown a U.S. Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis study has indicated that renewable energy now makes up a larger portion of America’s power production pie than coal.
And it has done so for 40 days straight!
For the first time ever, U.S. utility-scale solar, wind, and hydroelectric power generation has generated more electricity than coal for an entire month (April), and the stretch actually began on March 25. Prior to this new record, 2019 only featured 38 total days when renewables beat coal, and the longest continuous stretch was just nine days.
The coal market has collapsed in the U.S. across the first part of 2020 for multiple reasons, including a downward trend in natural gas prices, unseasonably warm weather, a whole lot of new renewable energy capacity coming online in late 2019, and recently the reduced draw on our national grid due to a coronavirus-and-subsequent-lockdown-related reduction in energy consumption.
As recently as 2008 coal was responsible for as much as 50 per cent of American power production needs. January of this year marked the first time that coal’s share of that market fell below 20 per cent, and in April it reached its lowest ever dip to just 15.3 per cent. Despite the Trump administration’s efforts to revive dirty coal power production, it seems possible that renewables could exceed coal on an annual power production basis this year.
According to the Energy Information Administration, electricity consumption is expected to fall 3 per cent in 2020 thanks to more efficient use and reduced demand. Coal burning for power production is expected to drop as much as 20 per cent, while renewables expect 11 per cent growth thanks to low operating costs in the face of a global recession.
OK, so how does this relate to EVs?
Not only do electric cars not produce any emissions in the process of driving them, but the American power grid is also far more emissions efficient in charging an EV than the oil and gas industry is in the extracting and refining process. And every time a coal plant is closed and a renewables array is hooked into the grid, EV-related emissions get cleaner.
Yes, electric cars are more emission heavy in the initial production process than a traditional gasoline car, especially ones with large battery packs like a long-range Tesla or a Jag iPace. However, as we continue to convert our power grid to more efficient and zero-emissions practices like wind, solar, and hydroelectric that initial penalty is rapidly made up for by a wholesale lack of tailpipe emissions.
Back in February the Union of Concerned Scientists produced a report stating that the average EV charging at an average connection to the grid in the U.S. produces equivalent emissions to a theoretical 50 MPG gasoline car.
Obviously the downside of a reduction in coal is an increase in fracked natural gas, but as the renewable and low-emissions energy grid grows hopefully that will find its peak and downward slide sooner rather than later.
Hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind, biomass, and nuclear. We have the capability to turn to a massively reduced emissions power grid right now, packed with zero emissions and renewable options. The technology exists today.
Once we get to a zero emissions power grid, the only emission cost for an electric vehicle would be in the initial construction. Wouldn’t that be nice? I do love good news.